$36.5 Million Malpractice Award May be Record for Conn.

December 4, 2005

A jury has awarded $36.5 million to the family of a 6-year-old boy who is blind, brain damaged and suffering from cerebral palsy since he was injured during his delivery via a surrogate mother at Hartford Hospital.

The hospital was found 60 percent liable; the attending physician, Dr. Peter J. Doelger, an obstetrician/gynecologist with offices in Avon, Bloomfield and Hartford, 40 percent.

The judgment may have set a new record for a Connecticut malpractice award. The previous record was a $27 million verdict in 1999 against Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale University.

A six-member jury in Waterbury Superior Court reached the verdict last week in the case of Nicholas Cowles, born Feb. 10, 1999.

“If the evidence had shown that Hartford Hospital and Dr. Doelger were not at fault, we would have gone that way. We just didn’t see anything that showed us remotely that they weren’t liable,” jury foreman Julie Torres said.

Nicholas’ parents, Thomas and Sheila Cowles, now divorced and living in Farmington and Avon respectively, brought the case on behalf of their son.

Torres described the Cowleses as “very loving and caring,” saying that although they have help from a visiting nurse for about 10 hours a day, they are the primary caretakers to their profoundly disabled son.

Nicholas, who uses a wheelchair and cannot hold up his head, was present in the courtroom for part of the testimony, Torres said, adding, “we all wanted to reach out and hug him.”

The jurors found Doelger failed to interpret strips from a monitoring device that indicated the fetus was in distress, court records show. The difficult delivery continued so long, the fetus suffered from a dangerous increase in blood acidity; the child should have been delivered by Caesarean section long before it was, the jurors concluded.

The hospital was deemed liable, the jury said, because its nurses failed to alert Doelger to the distress signals, the records show.

“Had the Caesarean been performed even 30 minutes earlier, Nicholas would be fine today,” Torres said. “It was just tragic that it happened that way.”

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